Statement of Rep. Albert Wynn
Woodrow Wilson Bridge
June 6, 1997

I would like to begin by thanking Chairman John Warner for allowing me to participate in this important hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure on the critical issues involved in the reauthorization of ISTEA.

I am pleased to be here today to discuss a very unique project the rebuilding of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The Wilson Bridge was built more than 35 years ago and was designed to handle 75,000 vehicles a day, but is now used by more than 175,000 vehicles per day, including 17,000 heavy trucks. If you have traveled along 1-95 from Maryland to Virginia, or listened to the morning traffic reports in this area, you are undoubtedly familiar with the Wilson Bridge. Rush hour traffic backups surrounding the bridge are legendary on the East Coast. Federal Highway Administration engineers have determined that the remaining useful life of the bridge is less than eight years. There is no longer any question about whether or not the bridge should be replaced: it must be replaced as a matter of public safety.

Last fall the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Improvement Study's Coordination Committee, composed of officials from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Federal Highway Administration, recommended a 12-lane drawbridge design with upgraded access ramps. This new bridge will cost approximately $1.6 billion. The design and construction of a new bridge will take at least six to seven years to complete, so it is essential that the Wilson Bridge replacement be funded in the reauthorization of ISTEA. Any delay in this process will mean that within seven years, the federal government will have to begin extensive structural maintenance on the bridge to keep it safe - at significant cost -- and may eventually have to restrict truck traffic on the bridge as well.

It is important to remember that if this bridge were owned by a state or states, the federal government would require the states to construct a structure and approach roadways that meet the planning date required by federal regulations, which is currently the year 2020. The design recommended by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee meets these federal requirements by accommodating increasing traffic flows in this area.

The Wilson Bridge is a major link for 1-95 north-south traffic on the East Coast, as well as a critical route for Washington commuters. It is essential that we build a bridge for the future, as traffic flows in the area are likely to increase substantially. Because the bridge is owned by the federal government, the replacement should be fully funded by the federal government. The committee should not view this as a demonstration project; it is federally owned property.

If the Wilson Bridge were a state-owned bridge, its replacement would have been addressed in the early 1980s in the Interstate Completion program under the Final Interstate Cost Estimate, where funding was provided for critical projects in addition to the normal federal aid apportionment. Under this program, the federal government funded 90 percent of the cost of the project. Funding for the Wilson Bridge was not addressed at that time because the bridge is owned by the federal government.

It is my hope that the committee will support at least 90 percent federal funding for the Wilson Bridge construction in the reauthorization of ISTEA. I believe this is a reasonable and equitable approach that could be supported by a regional bridge authority, which would assume both ownership of the bridge and ongoing operating and maintenance costs.

I look forward to working with the Transportation Committees in both the House and the Senate throughout the ISTEA process. Thank you for your time and attention to these important issues.